Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Ashleigh Puttrese
English 100
Essay 1: Out-of-Class
March 15, 2002

Monotony

Along with living in a small town came the inevitable community gossip. Everyone knew everyone, and no one had a problem with divulging the neighbor’s secrets. Parties were held on an every-weekend basis and even on a weekday basis. I consider myself a pretty straight-arrow person. I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t engage in any activities that endorse these things—which is not to say I think less of those who do. However, these activities were the glue of my hometown, Elma; they were also the only things Elma had to offer a high school student like myself.

I had lived in Elma all of my life, which up until then, consisted of sixteen years. I attended the same school, I had the same friends, I lived in the same house, and monotony was a common feeling. Being sixteen and having done everything in my life exactly the same as the day before was beginning to drive me crazy. I’m fond of my elementary school experiences, and I can tolerate thinking of middle school, but high school was another story entirely. It was as if a bolt of lightning struck me; I suddenly didn’t want to go to my predictable school, I didn’t want to hang out with the same people I’d hung out with all of my life, I didn’t want to stay in Elma any longer, and I didn’t want to feel empty anymore. The atmosphere of high school drastically changed the way I saw my education, and what I saw both scared and frustrated me.

It wasn’t so much the material I had to learn; learning came easy for me. It was the environment in which I had to learn that frustrated me most. I was repulsed by most of my peers who came to school drunk, hung over, or high on God-only-knows-what. Classes were interrupted by rude jocks that made fun of the lesser fortunate, people who would talk out of context, students who asked the teachers personal questions to keep the lesson from beginning. There were students who lit cigarettes in the back of the classroom and inhaled as much as possible before getting caught, the spontaneous eruption of fighting, and students who simply slept and snored. This was all common place—just another day in Elma.

The few of us that took learning seriously and had plans for the future, were forced to sit through classes that moved at an alarmingly slow pace. I can identify with Mike Rose in the book Lives on the Boundary. In an excerpt from his book called "I Just Wanna Be Average," Rose writes of his experiences throughout school. He writes of struggling to concentrate on any subject. Rose and I were alike in the fact that we both struggled to keep our heads above water, and we both had to use every ounce of strength to focus, and we both eventually reverted to daydreaming. Things were ridiculously easy, so it wasn’t hard to stay top-of-the-class, but I was always disappointed that school wasn’t a challenge.

I’m not a child prodigy; school wasn’t easy because I was overly intelligent. School was easy because I belonged to a minority. I belonged the minority of individuals striving to become something. The majority of students who set the curve were overly unintelligent; maybe unintelligent is the wrong word. These students just didn’t have goals—nothing to strive for. Rose’s classmate, when asked for his opinion on talent and achievement, answered, "I just wanna be average." The majority of students in Elma "just wanna be average," whereas I belonged to the minority of students who wanted more than just average. I belonged to the group of students who wanted to work like hell through school, and breeze through life with the money we made from our high-paying jobs. However, it was the majority that set the curve, placing the bar I was expected to reach for low enough to step over.

 

I often remember being four, and watching my older brothers leave for school. Gabe was fourteen and Luke was ten, both equally old, and equally wise in my four-year-old-mind. I was so jealous that they had the privilege of going to school. I wanted more than anything to go with them and to learn about the things in the thick, heavy books they brought home. I would wait at the door to greet my brothers as they came home. I’d follow them upstairs and watch them unpack their bags, aimlessly scuttling about their feet as they prepared for long hours of serious, grueling homework. I would sit beside them every night with some paper and a marker, scribbling incoherently. In my mind I was doing my "homeones" (my four-year-old interpretation of the work homework) too, just like my big brothers. No matter how nonexistent and distant homework was in relation to me, I can remember always looking forward to it.

As often as this memory flashes through my mind, one would think I’d be used to it, but each and every time it resurfaces I get the same pang of intense irritation. I was always a little aggravated with my high school years. I felt they were ruined because I was forced to make do with the situation I was presented with. Instead of struggling to get good grades like most people, I was struggling to satisfy my thirst for knowledge. Instead of worrying about the big test coming up, I had to worry about dodging cigarette smoke and flying debris. I was trapped in a world where everyone looked the same, but no one had a face—in a place where time moved in blocks of days and nights, instead of increments of minutes and hours.

After reading Mike Rose’s piece from Lives on the Boundary, I took a step back, and examined not just the bad experiences in school, but also the good that came out of those bad situations. Like Rose, I found my passions among the confusion. The two things that I consistently enjoyed were my writing and my art. I believed those two things were my inlets to another world where I could believe that school was useful, and I would be getting somewhere in life with the knowledge I was supposed to be gaining. In the beginning, I was indifferent to my talents; they were nothing more than products of my idle hands. It was only when I was faced with high school that they proved to have any significance. I came to the conclusion that even if school didn’t teach me anything I would always be able to fall back on my two talents, writing and art. Sometimes my sanity depended on being able to go home and sit in front of my easel for hours, or at my desk with a lot of paper and a pencil sharpener. After awhile the effectiveness of this routine wore off, and after two grueling years at Elma High I decided that it was time to change, shake things up a bit, and take a chance.

I recently chose to move from Elma to Bellingham in order to live with my oldest brother, Gabe, and attend Whatcom Community College. I immediately understood life from Rose’s point of view, and I can relate to his experiences with the social aspects of school. Rose confirmed what I had known all along: what students are surrounded by in the classroom has an immeasurable impact on the way children and adults learn. Negative surroundings result in negative learning habits, and positive surroundings result in positive learning habits.

For the first time in my life, school is exactly how I imagined it should be when I was little; for the first time in my life I enjoy coming to school, and I’m actually disappointed when I have to leave. Mike Rose and I both made the best out the conditions that we were provided with. We were presented with negative surroundings that held us back, but we bucked the trends and made good come out of it. We found what we were best at—our passions.

 

Copyright 2002
Ashleigh Puttrese

 

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015